Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"A surfeit of lampreys"

A friend introduced me to this book and just a few pages in I found the subject of today's post. King Henry I of England (c. 1068-1135) is said to have died from eating too many lampreys (1st image), eel-like creatures for which he had a great fondness. Charles Dickens wrote, "When he had reigned upward of 35 years, and was 67 years old, he died of an indigestion and fever, brought on by eating, when he was far from well, of a fish called Lamprey, against which he had often been cautioned by his physicians." This so-called "surfeit of lampreys" was likely eaten in the form of a pie (2nd image), which would have been made like this later recipe:

Take your Lamprey and gut him, and take away the black string in the back, wash him very well, and dry him, and season him with Nutmeg, Pepper and Salt, then lay him into your Pie in pieces with Butter in the bottom, and some Shelots and Bay Leaves and more Butter, so close it and bake it, and fill it up with melted Butter, and keep it cold, and serve it in with some Mustard and Sugar.

Lamprey was considered a delicacy at the English Courts. It became a tradition for the people of Gloucester (a city known for its method of stewing lampreys) to present the monarch with a lamprey pie each Christmas, but because they were out of season at that time and thus very rare, the tradition continued only on the occasion of a coronation.

King Henry (3rd image) succumbed to food poisoning while on an extended visit to Normandy. After his death, his body was returned to England, where it was buried at Reading Abbey. But before his remains were transported, his body was disemboweled. His internal organs, brain, and eyes - along with his tongue, which had such a taste for lamprey - remained in France and were interred at Rouen Cathedral.

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